WEDNESDAY, Sept. 7 (HealthDay News) -- Introducing powder-free latex gloves into health care facilities can cut down on latex allergies among workers, a new study shows.

Researchers followed more than 800 health care workers at two hospitals in Wisconsin for 4.5 years. They tested the amount of latex allergen in the air ducts of the worker's main work areas before and after the hospitals switched to powder-free latex gloves.

There was a significant link between high levels of airborne latex allergen and health care workers with a latex allergy, or sensitivity, said the researchers at the Medical College of Wisconsin.

After the switch to powder-free latex gloves the team saw a 16-fold drop in the rate of latex allergy among the health care workers, and 25 percent of those with latex allergy at the start of study lost that sensitivity after the switch.

"This study provides the strongest evidence that allergic sensitivity to latex in health care workers is linked to airborne allergen exposure through powdered gloves," lead author Dr. Kevin J. Kelly, professor of pediatrics (allergy/immunology), internal medicine, and vice chair in pediatrics, said in a college news release.

"I believe these findings provide a roadmap for health care institutions that will help minimize the risks of latex sensitization to health care workers," he added.

Kelly's team also found that workers who developed a sensitivity to latex were three times more likely to quit their job.

The study, published online in the August issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, received funding from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

More information

The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology has more about latex allergy.